Look; I’m a fan of stuff. I like having pretty new shoes and fun little gadgets. No one is ever going to accuse me of being some sort of ascetic. And there’s nothing wrong, per se, with wanting to have nice things. The problem comes, of course, when we have too many things, and/or when things start becoming more important than… well, other things. Things which are not things. Things that are experiences and emotions and all of that.
Okay, I’m not particularly poetic or anything. Let’s take a look at Sheryl‘s question:
Christmas will soon be upon us, and I was wondering if you and/or your readers have any “alternative” ideas for how to spend Christmas. My son is the poster child for American consumerism, and already has a Christmas list a mile long. It’s not necessarily that we want to spend less money on Christmas presents (although that’s always a plus), but the kids don’t really play with the presents they get (come March, I bet they couldn’t even tell you what they received), and there’s not much to our Christmas memories beyond the thrill of tearing through wrapping paper. My parents are anti-religion, and we stay with them (out of town) over Christmas, so any church or charitable activities are out. My mom is a wee bit materialistic too, and balked at the idea that we make presents. I was thinking maybe we could use money we’d normally spend on presents and maybe take a weekend trip, or something… It just seems like making a nice memory would be remembered more fondly than quickly-forgotten presents.
First off, I want to say that I love that Sheryl is trying to think of some great, memory-making alternatives, here.
Next, I think there are really two issues at play in this situation: First, that Sheryl wants to do some sort of ungifting activity; and second, that they’ll be spending the holidays with her parents, whose philosophy is… somewhat different.
Without assuming too much about how Sheryl views “church or charitable activities,” I’m just going to point out that—short of serving Christmas dinner at a soup kitchen—most of the charitable endeavors working towards helping folks over the holidays desperately need assistance well in advance of Christmas, itself. So if Sheryl wants her kids to experience serving food or ringing a Salvation Army bell or filling shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, there are plenty of ways to work that in before you take off to visit with the parents. Just sayin’.
As for the holiday itself, I don’t know how much help you really need from me, Sheryl. You’re absolutely on the right track: Making a memory rather than a purchase is a great way to nourish your family without accumulating more things. I love the idea of a trip, personally. I also love the idea of a “family present,” like buying a Wii for the whole family to enjoy instead of smaller presents for everyone. (Okay, I have Wiis on the brain. You can change that to whatever makes sense for your family, obviously.) My kids are dying for a fancy tree house, for example; it may be that my husband agrees to make it a summer project with them, and we can spend the winter dreaming it up.
I really like the idea of something the family can enjoy together that doesn’t have to happen just over the holidays. What if you all decided to get season ski passes, or some other sort of membership to a place/activity you all love?
For the “materialistic parents,” my advice is to practice your ear-to-ear grin. Do what works for you and your family, and smile calmly in the face of consternation and pretend you don’t notice that you’re being judged. Start rehearsing now and you’ll have it down-pat before you head over the river and through the woods.
Readers, do you have other suggestions?